The Economics of the African Slave Trade

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					            The Economics of the African Slave Trade
By Anika Francis

In Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust, John Henrik
Clarke asserts that the voyages of Christopher Columbus marked the
starting point of world capitalism and the beginning of Europe's colonial
domination of the world. Columbus set in motion an act of criminality
that influences our very life today. Clarke described the period between
1400-1600 as the point in history when Europe freed itself from the
lethargy of the Middle Ages. During this period, Europe witnessed the
renewal of nationalism as well as the political transformation from
feudalism to nation states through the centralization of power by the
monarchs. The African slave trade played an important role in the
stabilization of Europe's economy, its transition to capitalism, the
development of the nation state, and the establishment of their imperial
empires. The opening of the Atlantic led to the development of Europe's
commercial empire and industrial revolution.

While Ghana was the headquarters of the African slave trade, Tropical
America was the real center of the trade. Thirty-six of the forty-two slave
fortress were located in Ghana. Aside from Ghana, slaves were shipped
from eight coastal regions in Africa including Senegambia, Sierra Leone,
Ivory Coast and Liberia region, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of
Biafra, Central Africa, and Southeast Africa (from the Cape of Good Hope
to the Cape of Delgado, including Madagascar). The slave trade had the
greatest impact upon central and western African. According to James
Rawley, West Africa supplied 3Ú5ths of the slaves for exportation
between 1701-1810. Half of the slaves were exported to South America,
42% to the Caribbean Islands, 7% to British North America, and 2% to
Central America.

The continuing demand for African slaves' labor arose from the
development of plantation agriculture, the long-term rise in prices and
consumption of sugar, and the demand for miners. Not only did Africans
represent skilled laborers, but they were also experts in tropical
agriculture. Consequently, they were well-suited for plantation
agriculture. The high immunity of Africans to malaria and yellow fever
compared with Europeans and the indigenous peoples made them more
suitable for tropical labor. While white and red labor were used initially,
Africans were the final solution to the acute labor problem in the New

The economic systems which dominated the African slave trade reflected
the transitions in Europe's economic systems. Initially, mercantilist views
characterized the conduct of the slave trade. The primary purpose of
mercantilism, an economic system which developed during the transition
of Europe from feudalism to nation-states, was to unify and increase the
power and monetary wealth of a nation through strict government
regulation of the national economy. Therefore, 16th century organization
of the trade was entrusted to a company which was given the sole right
by a particular nation to trade slaves and to erect and maintain forts.
However, these monopolistic companies had two major opponents: the
planter in the colonies, who complained of insufficient quantity and poor
quality of high priced slaves, and the merchants at home. The failure of
monopolies to deliver enough slaves led to free trade in the 18th century.
While it is easy to analyze the various economic systems utilized in the
African slave trade, it is far more difficult to determine a precise estimate
of how profitable the trade was.

The slave trade was one of the most important business enterprises of
the 17th century. The nation states of Europe stabilized themselves and
developed their economy mainly at the expense of African people. During
the latter half of the century; Colbert, a Frenchman, stated that, "no
commerce in the world produces as many advantages as that of the slave
trade"(Williams, From Columbus to Castro, 144). The wealth of the New
World in the form of sugar, tobacco, metals, gold, cotton, etc. was
extracted by African labor and then exported from the colonies through
the capitalistic enterprise of western Europe. Western Europe drew
profits from the trade in slaves, commodities produced, service of
shipping, the develop of new industries based on processing raw
materials, financing, and insurance. According to Eric Williams, no other
commerce required so large a capital as the slave trade which kept the
wheels of metropolitan industry turning. Cities such as Liverpool,
Amsterdam, and Bristol were built upon slave labor. The capital and raw
materials derived from the African slave trade contributed significantly to
the Commercial and Industrial revolution. According to James Rawley,
the "black slavery was essential to the carrying on of commerce, which in
turn was fundamental to the making of the modern world"(TransAtlantic
Slave Trade, 4). In other words, the modern world was built upon the
blood, sweat, and tears of our African ancestors.